Editorial: The shithole apology

Former United States secretary of state Rex Tillerson’s tour of Africa was meant to be, in part, a way to make amends for the derogatory comments his boss made in January. In case you have forgotten — we certainly haven’t — President Donald Trump described African countries as “shitholes”.

But instead of rebuilding the fractured relationship between the US and Africa, Tillerson’s trip achieved the exact opposite, underscoring just how little the American president respects the continent and its people.

Tillerson was recalled to Washington mid-trip, forcing him to curtail his itinerary. We know now why: Trump was about to fire him.

Trump had sent a lame duck secretary of state to do his dirty work in Africa — and then could not even be bothered to let him complete the task.

Over the past two American presidencies, enormous strides have been made in improving the relationship between the US and its African allies. George W Bush is still revered in some parts of Africa for his commitment to the fight against HIV, and Barack Obama played up his African roots on multiple trips to the continent.

Trump is undoing all that, and in doing so is reinforcing the negative prejudices and stereotypes that have for so long coloured the perception of the African continent abroad.

But at least we know where we stand. The message to Africans is clear: we don’t have a friend in the White House. 

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